‘(1) Scheme regulations for a scheme under section 1 shall provide for the provision of annual benefit statements to all members of the scheme.
(2) Benefit statements under subsection 1 shall show the following information—
(a) the member’s pension benefits earned to date;
(b) the projected annual pension and lump sum payments if the member retires at his normal pension age; and
(c) the member’s and employer’s current contribution rates.’.—(Chris Leslie.)
Brought up, and read the First time .
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 3—Fair deal—
‘A member of a public service pension scheme is entitled to remain an active member of that scheme following—
(a) the compulsory transfer of his contract of employment to an independent contractor; and
(b) any subsequent compulsory transfer of his contract of employment.’.
Amendment 11, in clause 3, page 2, line 25, at end insert—
‘(5A) This Act shall not apply to scheme regulations relating to local government workers in Scotland unless the Scottish Parliament approves its application.’.
Amendment 12, in clause 7, page 4, line 29, at end insert—
‘(3A) A scheme under section 1 which replaces a final salary scheme may only be established as a career average revalued earnings scheme or a defined benefits scheme of such other description as Treasury regulations may specify.’.
Amendment 4, in clause 12, page 8, line 9, after ‘scheme manager’, insert ‘and employee representatives’.
Amendment 19, in clause 16, page 9, line 36, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
‘(1) New scheme regulations made under section 1 and 3 shall replace existing schemes’ current regulations and shall take effect on the amendment date.
(1A) Following the implementation of new scheme regulations under subsection (1), benefits shall only be provided in accordance with those new regulations.’.
Amendment 20, page 10, line 5, leave out ‘closing’ and insert ‘amendment’.
Amendment 21, page 10, line 6, leave out ‘
Amendment 32, page 10, line 7, after ‘scheme,’, insert—
Amendment 22, page 10, line 8, leave out ‘
Amendment 23, page 10, line 10, leave out ‘(1)’ and insert ‘(1A)’.
Amendment 24, page 10, line 21, leave out ‘(1)’ and insert ‘(1A)’.
Amendment 25, page 10, line 23, leave out ‘closing’ and insert ‘amendment’.
Amendment 26, in clause 16, page 10, line 27, at end insert ‘regulations’.
Amendment 27, page 10, line 28, leave out ‘(1)’ and insert ‘(1A)’.
Amendment 28, page 10, line 28, leave out from ‘benefits’ to ‘includes’.
Government amendment 35
Amendment 7, in clause 28, page 15, line 12, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘must’.
Amendment 8, page 15, line 12, after ‘new’, insert ‘defined benefit’.
Government amendments 36 to 39.
Having spent a considerable number of weeks serving on the Bill Committee, I am pleased that we now have the opportunity to press the Government on questions that remain unanswered and largely unaddressed. Considerable changes are being made to many of the public service pension schemes as a result of Lord Hutton’s report on the future shape of those schemes. The report was largely welcomed throughout the House and that has contributed greatly to the improvement of the reforms. However, a number of the report’s aspects have not been adopted in full by the Government in this Bill, and we are concerned about that.
“public service pension schemes should issue regular benefit statements to active scheme members, at least annually and without being requested”.
At present, defined benefit public service schemes are obliged to provide such information only if they are requested to do so. That limited obligation is set out in the Occupational Pension Schemes (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 1996, but normal occupational pension schemes that do not have an arrangement for either a final salary or career average payment at the end of the scheme are obviously a different state of affairs from defined contribution schemes. New clause 2 would simply implement Lord Hutton’s recommendation and ensure that public service workers have a better understanding of the benefits that they have accumulated to date and what they stand to receive if they continue working until their normal retirement age.
We had a very healthy debate on this matter in Committee, where the exchange of views did not follow the usual to-ing and fro-ing of partisan speechmaking.
A number of Members agreed that it would be very healthy if we improved the information and transparency for employees to enable them to make more informed decisions in planning for their savings and their financial future. For example, members of the schemes would be better able to judge whether they were saving enough for their retirement. The new clause is therefore compatible with the aim of reducing people’s need for state benefits in retirement—something that many Members across the House want to achieve.
When we tabled a similar amendment in Committee, it gained quite a degree of vocal support. The hon. Members for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who are in the Chamber today, helpfully pressed the Minister to resist his usual logic, which says in big block capital letters, “This is an Opposition amendment; thou shalt resist this devious device by Labour Members to do something nasty in the legislation.” That was not our intention. We actually wanted to implement Lord Hutton’s recommendation and bring defined benefit schemes into the modern age, especially in respect of communicating more regularly and effectively with scheme members. I live in hope that those hon. Gentlemen will chip in and offer their support again, because surely the goal of improving people’s understanding of their pension and helping them to plan more effectively for their retirement should find favour on both sides of the House.
I will give way. In fact, I was just about the quote the hon. Gentleman. He said:
“If we want people genuinely to prepare for their pensions, we need to give them the maximum amount of information. Just suggesting that it is good practice without putting in place any requirement is the wrong thing to do.”––[Official Report, P ublic Service Pensions Public Bill Committee,
It gives me great pleasure to give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I am flattered that the shadow Minister should pay such attention to my words. Does he agree that it is rather perverse that when taking out a pension, particularly a private pension, a customer has to read reams of documentation about the risks, the forecasts, the potential growth rates and what might or might not happen, but when one has a public service pension, that level of detail is not provided and, most importantly, the annual statement provides scant information, even if it is requested?
That is an anachronism that has to change. The hon. Gentleman is correct that just because somebody is in a public service scheme or a defined benefit scheme does not mean that they should not think through carefully what the financial consequences will be for them on retirement. This Bill is the perfect opportunity to take that small but significant step forward.
In Committee, the Minister initially went into rebuttal mode and said that we could not have the new clause for a number of reasons. At first, he said that there were different ways of providing information to members of the scheme, that we did not want to be too prescriptive and that legislation was not necessary. However, the new clause does not prescribe the manner in which the information is provided; it would merely ensure that annual statements were provided in some form.
The Minister’s other objection in Committee was that defined benefit schemes in the private sector are not obliged to provide annual statements, so it would not be right for public sector schemes to do so. However, Government Members again disagreed. I cannot do better than to quote again the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green:
“We have a pensions problem in this country, and saying that private sector schemes are not required to provide statements—though many do…—is not a good enough reason for not requiring public sector schemes to provide them.”––[Official Report, P ublic Service Pensions Public Bill Committee,
Amen to that excellent argument. The Minister said at the time that he would consider the issue further.
Last week, I wrote to the Minister saying that it was our intention to table new clause 2. I rather hoped that he would table his own variant. Usually, there are accusations that the Opposition have not thought through the drafting of the phraseology of an amendment and there is some technical reason why it cannot be accepted. However, we have offered the Minister the chance to correct that. It is of great regret that the Minister did not come forward with his own new clause. Perhaps I should be more optimistic and assume that that means that the Minister will stand up and accept new clause 2 straight away. That would be fantastic.
It is worth noting that all defined contribution pension schemes are required by the 1996 occupational pension schemes regulations to provide much more detailed statements than those proposed in the new clause. There is therefore no reason to think that there would be any problem in implementing the arrangements.
It would be helpful if the Minister made this change. If he wants to do it in the House of Lords when the Bill gets down there, we could probably accept that, but I think that most Members would accept the change.
In Committee, we also talked about the risk of people with public sector pensions making the perverse decision not to contribute to their pension because they feel that the contribution rate is going up significantly, missing the fact that a significant contribution is being made to their pension scheme by the taxpayer. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the new clause would assist members of public sector pension schemes in identifying what a large contribution the taxpayer is making, and therefore help to reduce the number of people who take the irrational step of opting out of the pension scheme?
Even though the quality of the scheme has been eroded, as we saw with the unilateral imposition of the average 3% increase in employee contributions—that might even have been before Lord Hutton reported—they are still good defined benefit schemes and we encourage public sector members to stay in them. We have debated our concerns elsewhere over whether the viability of the schemes will be jeopardised by employees being deterred from joining or deciding to opt out. However, we encourage members to stay in the schemes. Unfortunately, the 3% additional contribution is not part of this legislation, so it would be outwith the scope of the Bill to table amendments on that or to debate it. That is a great shame.
It is important that annual benefit statements include not only the employee’s contribution, but the employer’s contribution, as set out in the new clause. If the defined benefit schemes are good, there is no reason not to have that level of clarity and transparency. I have no problem with accepting that that should be part of the information that is given to scheme members. I hope that the Minister will accept that.
New clause 3 is one of the most important proposals in this group. The Government promised to implement what is known as the new fair deal, which is one of the most important aspects of the agreement that was reached in the negotiations between the employee side and Government or employer side of the scheme. The new fair deal would ensure that all public service workers who were compulsorily transferred to an independent contractor, be it a private company, a charity or another third sector body, would be entitled to remain an active member of their public service pension scheme. That is a basic requirement and it was a core part of the agreement. We were glad that the Government committed to it.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury confirmed the Government’s commitment to the new fair deal in a written statement in July, which stated that
“the Government have reviewed the fair deal policy and agreed to maintain the overall approach, but deliver this by offering access to public service pension schemes for transferring staff. When implemented, this means that all staff whose employment is compulsorily transferred from the public service under TUPE, including subsequent TUPE transfers, to independent providers of public services will retain membership of their current employer’s pension arrangements.”—[Hansard, 4 July 2012; Vol. 547, c. 54WS.]
That is an improvement on the current fair deal arrangements, which ensure that outsourced staff receive broadly comparable arrangements to those under the public service schemes. The Government’s promise to implement the new fair deal was central to the rationale and at the heart of why many public service workers agreed to support the new proposed pensions reform, even though aspects of it were detrimental to them.
A few months ago in the Open Public Services White Paper, the Government expressed enthusiasm for transferring services to voluntary organisations and social enterprise—we have not heard so much about that recently. If that is to work, however, is it not particularly important to have the proposed provision on pensions?
Many public service workers whose services have been transferred to independent providers, whether they have been outsourced, find themselves in the voluntary sector or wherever, still want to ensure that their deferred wages—that is what pensions are—will be protected in a particular way. That was a positive development in the negotiations, but to what extent has such protection found its way into the Bill? That is why the Opposition are concerned and have tabled new clause 3.
The situation now is different because of the level of trust on which public service employees feel tested when looking at significant changes by the Government. Employee contributions were unilaterally increased by 3% without consultation or discussion—that was simply imposed, even though Lord Hutton was putting measures through. The evaluation arrangement was unilaterally changed from the retail prices index to the consumer prices index. A typical public service employee must have said, “Hold on a minute. Are we supposed to just take this on faith? We are glad that the Government are in negotiations, but as we know, Ministers are here today and gone tomorrow.” In no way do I cast aspersion on the Economic Secretary who I am sure will remain on the Front Bench in days to come. However, we cannot simply rely on statements from particular Ministers at a particular point in time.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about trust, which is critical following the experience of many public service workers and Government decisions on pensions. Does he not underplay the importance of the fair deal? He described it as a positive development in the negotiations, but for many public service workers and their unions it was not just a positive development but a deal maker that allowed them to accept a package which, as he said, was detrimental in other areas. It was important that people took that provision as a clear guarantee, but doubt has now been cast on it, which underlines the importance of including it in the Bill and therefore the importance of new clause 3.
My right hon. Friend is correct. When we get a sense of the Government pulling the odd thread here or there or watering down elements of the provision—if I may mix my metaphors—it is no wonder that people start to question whether the words of Ministers at a particular point in time will carry through into what should be a 25-year commitment as set out in legislation. The provision was part of those negotiations but it has not found its way into the Bill.
Even more worryingly, the Economic Secretary made some peculiar statements in Committee about something that we thought was a done deal. He said:
“it is important that we consider in full the views of all stakeholders, including of course those who will be affected, through further consultation before making a final decision on the issue. It would therefore be inappropriate to include the fair deal policy in the Bill.”––[Official Report, Public Service Pensions Public Bill Committee,
It is as though negotiations had not been completed or decisions reached. Indeed, it sounded very much as if the Government were reneging on their commitment.
The Government need to lay to rest any suggestion that they are going back on their promise, and the only way to do that is to accept new clause 3. Failure to do so risks reopening debates and potential disputes with public service workers who will—justifiably—feel they have been misled.
Indeed; we will debate some of the worst aspects of clause 3 later. It feels as though when writing the Bill Ministers did not consider it as enshrining an arrangement involving give and take on both sides. They have included certain things to the advantage of the employer, but there are scant—if any—safeguards of sufficiency and longevity for the employee, and that is causing anxiety.
My hon. Friend is making an important argument in response to the intervention by my hon. Friend John McDonnell. It is not just that the Bill includes certain things that advantage employers; the measures are principally to the advantage of the Treasury, which is given the whip hand and ultimate say over schemes that should be run by their members and managers accountable to them.
My hon. Friend quoted the Economic Secretary in Committee. When the Minister rises to his feet, is it not important that he explain the discrepancy between what he said in Committee and what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said to this House in December last year? He said:
“Because we have agreed to establish new schemes on a career average basis, I can tell the House that we have agreed to retain the fair deal provision and extend access for transferring staff.”—[Hansard, 20 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 1203.]
There is a big difference between those two statements and the Economic Secretary needs to explain himself on that point.
It may be a bad habit but it was a jolly good intervention. I do not often do this, but I commend my right hon. Friend for quoting the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. What is the difference between the Chief Secretary and the Economic Secretary? Well, one is a Liberal Democrat and the other a Conservative. However, my right hon. Friend should take that with a pinch of salt, as I too have a quote from the Chief Secretary, who said that
“establishing a relationship of trust and confidence between the Government and public service workers is critical to the success of these reforms.”
How long will this coalition Government persist? What we need is not just a commitment from a Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury whose parliamentary and ministerial career might not endure. We need to know what would happen should there be the dreadful set of circumstances of a Conservative majority Administration. Would a promise on the new fair deal, given only verbally by Ministers, endure in such circumstances?
Given the Minister’s trajectory and career momentum, I want to hear a commitment from him to the new fair deal on behalf of the Conservative party. That might mean something, although I would still prefer to see it in the Bill. It would be invidious for the Government to speak against new clause 3, let alone vote against it if we decided to test the opinion of the House. I am conscious of the time so I will move on.
Amendment 11 relates to issues of local government workers in Scotland and would exclude the Scottish local government pension scheme from the Bill, unless agreed to by the Scottish Parliament. Primary legislation on public service pension schemes has always been reserved to the UK Parliament. Scottish Ministers have had responsibility for regulations for public service schemes but those have been subject to Treasury approval and have tended to mirror arrangements for England and Wales. The exception is the Scottish local government pension scheme, which is a funded scheme that has not been subject to Treasury approval in the past. The Bill extends certain prescriptions to the design of the Scottish local government pension scheme that, in practice, have previously been left to Scottish Ministers to negotiate and decide—most importantly, they negotiated and decided on normal pension age; that benefits should be based on career-average revalued earnings and not final salary; on the cost cap, as it is known; and on rules for governance and fund valuations.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the Scottish Government can find the ways and means to fund their pensions, they should be free from penalties from the Treasury at Westminster?
That comes down to how the legislation is drafted. There are different financial consequences for local government pension schemes than for other public service pension schemes. That is why we need clarity in the legislation. I am conscious that the Scottish National party Government in Scotland have argued that there is no need for a legislative consent motion to cover the matter because, in theory, the UK Parliament always had primary legislative power over the local government pension scheme in Scotland but has hitherto chosen not to use it. The Government in Scotland have been quick to accept the UK’s proposals, which is unusual, because they normally argue that more power should sit with Holyrood. The movement of the regulation-making powers means that the Scottish Government will not need to grapple with difficult decisions on the reform of certain pensions, but the Opposition feel it would be better for Members of the Scottish Parliament to have an opportunity to scrutinise and debate the application of the legislation to the local government pension scheme in Scotland. Amendment 11 to clause 3 would mean that the Bill would not apply to the local government pension scheme in Scotland unless that is explicitly approved by the Scottish Parliament. Dr Whiteford and others have tabled parallel amendments—I gather they are in the third group, so we will probably return to this debate later.
Amendment 12, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend Cathy Jamieson, relates to another key Government promise made to public service workers. It seeks to enshrine in the legislation another Government promise made to public service workers—the Government promised that their final salary schemes would be replaced with career-average revalued earnings schemes. That would ensure that public service workers continue to receive a defined benefit pension.
The Bill does not explicitly honour that promise, and clause 7 provides that schemes created under the Bill can be defined benefit or defined contribution schemes, or any scheme of any other description. That is fundamental to the arguments on the Bill, but it is also fundamental to the arguments that Hutton made and the agreements that were reached. All schemes were supposed to be succeeded by career-average defined benefit schemes. In some cases, the Government might like to continue small defined contribution schemes, but the amendment would not affect those; it would apply only to final salary schemes and ensure that they are replaced with another defined benefit arrangement. The amendment therefore simply seeks to put the Government’s promise to public service workers on a statutory footing.
A similar amendment was opposed in Committee, but the reasons given by the Minister were concerning. He claimed that the Government intended to replace the final salary schemes with career-average schemes, but that “the flexibility embedded in” the Bill
“could be helpful to scheme members in future.”
He added that
“it would not be appropriate for this Government to tie the hands of future generations and pension scheme members who might decide that, subject to the protection offered by the enhanced consultation and reporting obligations of clause 20, defined benefit schemes were no longer the most appropriate for public service workers.”––[Official Report, Public Service Pensions Public Bill Committee,
That is not the first time we have heard the Minister’s bizarre argument that legislation could bind the hands of future Governments. No Government can bind the hands of their successors in that way. Unless the Minister has an insight into changes in the democratic process of which we are unaware, that remains absolutely the case.
Therefore, the argument that clause 7 provides welcome flexibility to scheme members now or in future is, in the Opposition’s view, potentially misleading. In the rare circumstances that a defined contribution scheme is better than the defined benefit one, and scheme members and the Government wish to change schemes to defined contributions schemes, clauses 19 and 20 allow that to happen. Clause 7 provides no flexibility that does not exist in clauses 19 and 20. If we do not make the amendment, we allow the Government to go back on their promises. We seek to keep them to their word on those arrangements.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak to proposals in this large group, so I shall make my final point on the question of closing local government pension schemes. My hon. Friend Andy Sawford and Mike Freer, among others, have had extensive experience of local government schemes. In Committee, there was anxiety that the Bill mentions closing existing LGPS schemes and beginning new ones. The problem with closing schemes is that there can be unintended and adverse consequences. We heard in Committee about triggering debts which might need to be crystallised on closure. Of course, not just big local authorities but small academies, charities and others are members of such schemes. They might find that they suddenly need to shell out one great lump of money simply because an existing scheme closes and the deficit needs to be dealt with there and then.
The Minister assured us that regulatory provisions did not require such crystallisation, and that there could be protections. The Opposition are not massively happy with that, but even if we accept the Minister’s word that closure does not mean closure, thousands of employers in the local government pension fund have individual admission agreements governing the terms of their participation—the agreements are not necessarily in a standard form, meaning that there could be thousands of different admissions contracts for the schemes. It is likely that at least some of the agreements will set out various powers for local authorities in the event of closure, including the power to collect a debt from the employer equal to its share of the scheme’s deficit. That would put a massive strain on participating employers and could put some of them out of business.
The Minister gave assurances on some of those points in Committee, but he missed the problem that the Bill allows local authorities to close their funds. The Government cannot prevent them from doing so under the Bill. The problem of triggering debts therefore remains substantive. There is also the question of whether closure means closure or continuing a scheme. The Opposition believe that a different approach is needed and that the Bill needs better drafting, which is why we have tabled amendments 20 to 28. We are not trying to add costs to the public purse and are keeping the Government’s proposals, but we are saying that it would be better to amend an existing scheme rather than to close and reopen it. They are in some ways technical proposals, but it would be better to err on the side of caution and provide that new regulations can amend scheme rules to ensure that all future benefits are accrued according to the provisions of the Bill and negotiated arrangements.
Those are essentially my comments on the Opposition’s proposals. My hon. Friends and others have tabled amendments in this group, but I shall let them make the case for them.
I rise to speak briefly on Opposition new clause 3, which is on fair deal arrangements. Hon. Members will be aware that fair deal arrangements were originally addressed by Lord Hutton in his interim report in October 2010. Hutton was concerned that the arrangements at that time created barriers to the plurality of public service provision. He said:
“At present, when employees are transferred to non-public service bodies, the organisation they move to is required to ensure that there is ‘broadly comparable’ pension provision for future service, through the Fair Deal provisions…This arrangement has maintained the level of pension provision for those compulsorily transferred out of the public sector. However…this can make it harder for private sector and third sector organisations to provide public services because providing a ‘broadly comparable’ defined benefit pension scheme can be significantly more expensive and risky for private sector organisations than for public sector employers.”
That was the starting point of the debate. In box 1.A—a shaded box, Chris Leslie will be intrigued to know—Lord Hutton concluded:
“Ultimately, it is for the Government to consider carefully the best way of moving forward with Fair Deal in a way that delivers its wider objective of encouraging a broader range of public service providers while remaining consistent with good employment practices.”
My principal concern, fresh from the doorsteps of Corby, is for the many individual members of the pension scheme. In his extensive piece of work, Lord Hutton considered the future of public service reform and the relationships between the public and private sector. What I am most concerned about in the debate today and in supporting the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East on the fair deal, is giving an assurance to those individuals in Corby and East Northamptonshire—cleaners and nurses and so on—that the goalposts will not be constantly shifted away from what they expect from their pension. From the 3p in the pound change to the RPI to CPI change, they feel buffeted by huge changes that are really affecting them at the moment. That is why we need the assurance in the Bill.
I congratulate Andy Sawford on his election to the House. His intervention indicates the seriousness with which he takes his new role. I am grateful for that and I take his point. All of us on the Government Benches want to ensure that we have sustainable, good-quality defined benefit pensions in the public sector, but to achieve that there has to be major reform to public service pensions for a raft of reasons to do with longevity, cost, poor performance of the stock market in the past 12 years and tax changes that occurred in 1997. For all those reasons, if we are to have good-quality, defined benefit pensions for public service employees, there have to be major reforms.
The Government have been clear, open and transparent in the negotiating process, and an ample number of documents are circulating that set out precisely the conclusion to the negotiations, not least the proposed final agreements. The idea that without changing primary legislation the Government can somehow slip through major changes to the quality of benefits to the employees, which the hon. Gentleman is talking about, is just not in the real world. All Governments have to behave reasonably, and this Government are no different from any other. Not only have they behaved reasonably in these negotiations, but, I believe, they have given rise to high-quality public service pension arrangements that offer benefits way beyond the arrangements in the private sector. That is a sign that the Government recognise the important contribution that public sector employees make to our society.
I point the hon. Gentleman to the consultation on the new deal that took place between March and June 2011. That was a broad consultation, to which there were more than 100 responses. In July this year, in a written ministerial statement, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury stated:
“the Government have reviewed the fair deal policy and agreed to maintain the overall approach, but deliver this by offering access to public service pension schemes for transferring staff…this means that all staff whose employment is compulsorily transferred from the public service under TUPE…to independent providers of public services will retain membership of their current employer’s pension arrangements.”—[Hansard, 4 July 2012; Vol. 547, c. 54WS.]
That is on the record and should provide the hon. Gentleman and the rest of the House with the assurance they need.
Alas, I no longer speak on behalf of the Government, but that is a commitment given by Ministers of this coalition Government. The hon. Gentleman is trying to create a division between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats in our approach to public service pension reform, and there is no such division. There is no such difference in attitude between the two parties on public service reform.
I rise to support the hon. Gentleman. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East, the House and the public have a right to take at face value the words of a Chief Secretary—a Chief Secretary is a Chief Secretary is a Chief Secretary. That is a statement of Government policy and of coalition Government intent. Therefore, I think the onus is not on the hon. Gentleman, but on the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to explain why his statement is different from the Chief Secretary’s statement.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend and to the Chief Secretary and I did not find any difference. My hon. Friend was addressing whether particular matters should be in primary legislation; the Chief Secretary was setting out the case for the policy.
On teachers’ pensions, there was anxiety that the current arrangements, under which teachers in the independent sector can be members of the teachers’ pension scheme if their employer signs up to the scheme, might be put in jeopardy by the words of Lord Hutton’s interim report, so the Chief Secretary’s statement was welcome news to teachers. Paragraph 8 of the proposed final agreement states:
“the Government agrees to retain Fair Deal provision and extend access to public service pension schemes for transferring staff. This means that all staff whose employment is compulsorily transferred from maintained schools (including academies)…under TUPE…will…be able to retain membership of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme when transferred.”
That is welcome news. The agreement goes on to state that
“The Government’s decision on Fair deal means that…independent schools which already have access to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme will continue to do so (for existing and new teachers); and new teachers and independent schools will continue to be able to join the scheme under the existing qualifying criteria.”
When we debated the issue in Committee, the hon. Member for Nottingham East conceded that the new fair deal
“is an improvement on the current fair deal arrangements”— but, as he has just now, he complained that
“the promise does not appear in the Bill.”––[Official Report, Public Services Pensions Public Bill Committee,
He will be aware, however, that the fair deal arrangements were non-statutory when they were introduced in 1999, and that they remained non-statutory when they were revised in 2004. Notwithstanding the fact that the new fair deal arrangements are an improvement on the old ones, if it is good enough for a Labour Government for the policy to be non-statutory, it ought to be good enough for the hon. Gentleman. As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear in Committee, the recently published Government response to the fair deal consultation included draft guidance setting out how the new policy would work in practice. Given all the public statements by my hon. Friend, the Chief Secretary and by the published guidance and consultation documents, the hon. Gentleman should be assured by the commitments given.
Does the hon. Gentleman not understand the sense of anxiety that many public sector employees feel? Their trust was shattered because of the unilateral decisions on RPI to CPI and the 3%. They are saying, “Don’t we need more safeguards?” Can he understand why they would want safeguards now that might not have been necessary in the past?
Of course, that is an assertion by the hon. Gentleman. I do not recognise that crushing of confidence. What the Government had to do when they came into office was tackle a huge public sector deficit of £156 billion, and they have done that. As a consequence of the difficult decisions the Government have taken, the capital markets have been assured that the Government are getting the public finances under control. That itself should assure beneficiaries of public service pensions that the Government will put the public finances in a stable condition and so avoid the need for the sort of draconian changes to public service pensions being implemented in other European countries as they seek, rather belatedly, to tackle their public deficits.
Why does the hon. Gentleman think that that is a comfort, given that, as far as we can see, the Government’s deficit reduction plans are failing and debt is rising? In the light of that, many public service workers might well expect another bite at the cherry.
I fear that we are straying slightly from new clause 3 and the group of amendments, but I believe that the Government’s economic strategy is right. It is a judgment call, but one that I believe has been proven right by the fact that the Government’s borrowing cost for 10-year bonds, as they seek to fund the deficit, which has been reduced by a quarter over the last two and a half years, is 1.8%. That is a tribute to the difficult judgments Treasury Ministers have made, and they should be given credit for their achievements. As a consequence, however, there have had to be increases in the contribution rates of active members of public service pension schemes. In addition, Lord Hutton believes that even if there was not a deficit, major reform of public service pensions would still be needed, if they are to be sustainable in the long run.
The Government’s commitment to sustainable public finances is of more concrete value than a proposal from a party with a track record of undermining the public finances. Ultimately, in a pay-as-you-go public service pension scheme, the quality and assurance that members want will depend on the ability of the Government to maintain stable public finances.
I rise to speak to the amendments in my name: amendments 4, 7 and 8.
Throughout the progress of the Bill, I have tabled a series of amendments with a central thrust—the same one raised by my hon. Friend Chris Leslie—which is about trust. The amendments would ensure that at each stage and for each grouping, there would be full consultation with and the full involvement of representatives of employees and scheme members. I apologise: I should have declared an interest as a member of the local government pension scheme. Nevertheless, each amendment would address the issue of confidence and secure a recognition, as promised by the Government, that employees will be fully consulted and represented and kept fully informed of changes to their pension schemes, which has not been the case until now.
It is worth remembering that the pension deal was not a deal for a large number of unions; for more than 1 million workers, it was imposed. The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, the National Union of Teachers, the Public and Commercial Services Union, the Prison Officers Association, the University and College Union and Unite did not agree to the deal or the heads of agreement; instead, the deal was imposed upon them. There is deep scepticism amongst workers, and if Government Members do not recognise that, they are not living in the real world, or encountering the same constituents I am, or receiving the letters I get from police officers, teachers and local government workers across the piece.
Even organisations that signed up to the heads of the deal are now expressing concerns. The British Medical Association, whose briefing Members will have received, thought it had signed up to an assurance from the Government, which I remember being made, that there would be a 25-year guarantee of no change around a number of protected issues. The Government said:
“This means that no changes to scheme design, benefits or contribution rates should be necessary for 25 years outside of the processes agreed for the cost cap. To give substance to this, the Government intends to include provisions on the face of the forthcoming Public Service Pensions Bill to ensure a high bar is set for future Governments to change the design of the schemes. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury will also give a commitment to Parliament of no more reform for 25 years.”
State to return to these issues, introduce further reforms and make fairly significant changes through statutory instruments, not primary legislation to be debated in the House. Consequently, there is a lack of confidence in the words of Ministers, particularly given that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said, those words are contradictory, not just across Government, but within the same Department. It is extraordinary.
Others also signed the deal. The RCN wrote to us explaining its concerns:
“Clause 3(3) is a Henry VIII clause which enables the Government to amend the Act at a later date through the use of secondary legislation. The RCN is concerned that, as a result, the Bill gives powers to the UK Government to amend and make retrospective provisions to any other related legislation without sufficient member consultation or scrutiny by Parliament.”
I also received a letter from Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which also signed up to the deal. She wrote:
“As you may know, the ATL accepted the Government’s proposed final agreement on changes to the teachers pension scheme as the best that could be achieved through negotiations. We now find the Bill contains additional elements that go beyond what was agreed in March 2012 and believe that the proposed changes could adversely and unfairly affect the quality of education that the nation’s children receive in our schools.”
Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern among police officers highlighted last week in an excellent Westminster Hall debate led by our right hon. Friend Keith Vaz? Many police officers feel that the arrangements they have made for their later life and approach to retirement—for doing things such as helping their children to get into housing or paying their university fees—have been completely undermined by changes that have pulled the rug from under them right at the end of their working life, after they have made an incredible contribution to keeping our communities safe. It is those kinds of people we must think about today as we make these changes. As my hon. Friend says, we must give them much greater confidence and assurance.
I fully concur with my hon. Friend. I received—perhaps he did too—an e-mail from Inspector Nick Smart, who wrote:
“I am a serving police inspector in West Yorkshire of 17 years. I am about to see my life plans thrown into chaos with the proposed pension changes, with my retirement age extended by at least two years plus a 20% cut in my lump sum—about £40,000—and a significantly worse annual pension.”
It is no wonder that people are demoralised and do not trust the Government. They thought there was at least a 25-year guarantee, but we now know that that is not the case, because the Government are giving themselves the power to change schemes at will in the future.
The hon. Gentleman, like other hon. Members, will be aware of the indication that teachers will be asked to pay 50% of their contributions up until 2015, and they are not even safeguarded beyond 2015. Does he agree that, if the Government are not careful, they will create a breeding ground for discontent among teachers?
Exactly, but I think it is across the piece. Whether or not we agreed with the last negotiations, or whether they were imposed or signed up to, at least some people felt there was some security for the future.
People are becoming demoralised, which is why it is important that we insert into the Bill provisions for full consultation and agreement with organisations representing employees and for full openness and transparency. That is why new clause 3, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East, is critical. As has been said, at least in the private sector there is full display and transparency in what people sign up to, but there is no display or transparency in the public sector, particularly now that the Government have given themselves these powers.
Given the comments about the police pension scheme, I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands the wish of the Scottish Police Federation that police pensions be controlled independently in Scotland. For England and Wales, however, does he feel that in future Governments should act more morally in relation to the terms of agreements that were made years before and under which police officers expect to retire, while also understanding, of course, that in Scotland they want clear of the system?
I can fully understand the feelings of police officers in Scotland, as I can those of officers across England and Wales. People now just want safety and security in their pensions, which are theirs—they have paid for them and contributed to them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said from the Front Bench, they are nothing more than deferred wages.
I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman’s point. He is absolutely right that firefighters, prison workers, doctors and nurses contribute to their pensions, but so do taxpayers. Indeed, a considerable amount of most public pensions is paid for by the taxpayer. If he wishes to push the point about certainty, does he agree that the Government should have considered a fully funded pension scheme, rather than rely on future taxpayers to pay for future pensions, with all the uncertainty about whether they will be able to afford it? Should the Government not have grasped the nettle and gone for a fully funded pension scheme now?
The local government scheme is fully funded, yet the Government seek to interfere with that, too. If we are to open up the debate, let us do so; however, the Government seem to be making piecemeal reforms for their own economic objectives and then not even standing by them. The problem is the uncertainty.
Let me turn to the detail of amendment 4. As those of us who have been involved in pension negotiations will know, one of the most important elements is ensuring that the valuation process is right, because that is what determines not just the future payouts from the scheme, but its future security; there are also probity issues. I am concerned that the legislation as drafted would give no role to employees or their representatives in the revaluation system. My amendment 4 is a mild-mannered amendment to provide that the valuation report should be sent not just to the scheme manager and the employer, but to the employees’ representatives. That would promote at least some openness and transparency, which might reassure participants in the scheme.
Few pension decisions are more important to employees than the contribution levels, which stem from the valuation process. We have seen a unilateral change in contribution rates, which I think, to be frank, will deter many people from participating in those schemes and may throw the long-term future of those schemes into jeopardy. If there has been a valuation, the report should be sent to the employees’ representatives. It should be open and transparent, and it should then be possible to have a discussion about the valuation. That is what amendment 4 seeks to do. It simply says that the report should be sent not just to the scheme manager, but to the employee representatives, and that the terms of the revaluation should be mutually agreed. It is simply about participation.
Would the hon. Gentleman, like me, put this issue in the same area as transparency and giving information to people in pension schemes, which will help people to make better judgments? Just as we heard when new clause 2 was being moved, the provision of information about what is in their pension or how that is assessed helps people to make rational decisions.
That is exactly right. There has to be openness and transparency. The point has already been made, but some of us will now have to go out there and campaign to keep people in these schemes. The way to do that is by having openness and transparency about what they are paying in, the benefits being made and, I agree, the overall contribution made by taxpayers.
I fear for the future. We have seen the Fire Brigades Union survey of what would happen if there were increases in pension contributions to those workers’ scheme and also a reduction in benefits. Some 30% told the survey that they would question whether they wished to continue in the scheme. A 30% withdrawal rate would undermine some of those schemes. That is why openness and transparency are important. One of the key areas for openness and transparency is in the valuation process, with the terminology and methodology agreed with the employee representatives, so that they have confidence that the process is being conducted fairly, openly and, to be frank, professionally. In addition, once the revaluation is done, the report should be provided to the employee representatives. I can see nothing in that with which the Government could disagree.
The hon. Gentleman is right that many of us might well have to campaign to ensure that people invest and stick with these schemes, but even if we get valuation and transparency right, is there not a “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza” syndrome with these Henry VIII powers? People will say, “You can say all that, but you can’t promise that it will be so when I reach pension age.”
I fully agree. What concerns me is that the Henry VIII powers in clause 3 are retrospective. This is another reason why the valuation process is so critical: if there is not full openness, transparency and consultation, in particular with employee representatives, the Government could in future use the valuation process to withdraw some of the benefits of the scheme or increase the contributions retrospectively. People can sign up to a scheme and pay into it for 20 years, but then be told that the benefits are different—although I think that will be tested in law, because I believe that legally we are talking about accrued rights that are protected under European legislation. The Government do not accept that argument, but it is a critical point. That is why I have tabled my amendments. The Government underestimate the anxiety and fears out there—particularly among trade unions, but also in other organisations—which arise from the lack of confidence in the future management of the schemes in the best interests of employees and members.
Let me turn to my amendments 7 and 8. The Government’s reform was meant to change the nature of the schemes, so that they would be based on career averages, exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East said from the Front Bench. However, that is for a defined benefit scheme, not a defined contribution scheme, yet the Government have not committed themselves to that in the legislation. That is why I have tabled amendments 7 and 8, so that where a scheme is rearranged or staff are transferred into a new scheme, they must be defined benefit schemes, because that is what was promised in the negotiations with the trade unions. It is argued that we are binding future Governments, but all legislation is meant to bind future Governments, and any future Government could revisit this matter. At the same time, we need to try to give at least some security and ensure that the promises given by the present Government are adhered to. That is not much to ask, and it is all my amendments are designed to do.
The hon. Gentleman puts his finger exactly on the issue: insecurity for future pensioners. That, combined with ever-growing inequality in our society and the economic multipliers that we might see operating, means that people who are now living quite comfortably might be facing penury in their old age, due to the root insecurity at the base of this Bill, which he is doing a good job of exposing.
In part, this is linked to other reforms that the Government are introducing—my hon. Friend the shadow Minister touched on this. Where changes have been made to the delivery of public services—some of this relates to outsourcing, reorganising government or delivering direct services through new Government agencies or public bodies—people understood that there would be a commitment from the Government that they would be transferred into the same scheme they are in now, which would be a defined benefit scheme. That is not in this Bill, which is why I have tabled my amendments.
The amendments put the onus on whatever bodies are established—non-departmental public bodies or whatever—to ensure that they offer a defined benefit scheme. If they do not, they are breaking the commitment that the Government gave. In addition, it will create a disincentive. When staff transfer, they transfer into the new scheme that will be established. Many people now in a defined benefit scheme—whatever its nature, whether final or average salary, although we are moving towards average salary—fear that if at some stage they move, they will be offered only a defined contribution scheme. That is why I want more certainty in the legislation. The amendments propose that whatever happens in the future, whatever restructuring the Government bring in and whatever new schemes are established, the Government will adhere to their promise that there must be a defined benefit scheme. I do not want to be cataclysmic about this, but if that does not happen, the legislation could undermine the whole provision of public service pensions. People could start to withdraw from the schemes because they did not have the certainty that they thought they had when they entered them.
The amendments might seem relatively minor, but they are absolutely key. If we do not bring the employees with us, if we do not consult their representatives, if we do not involve them in the valuation process and if we do not stand by the guarantee of a defined benefit scheme that they have been given, we will break down people’s confidence in the public sector pensions system overall, and we will certainly break down their confidence in this Government’s ability to adhere to their promises. This is not the 25-year guarantee of no further reform that we were given from the Dispatch Box only a matter of weeks ago.
I have worked it out; it must be well over 30 years in chambers of one kind or another around London. We do not always come to the same conclusions, but I take on board the expertise that he brings to this topic. I agree with his point that it is important, when dealing with the schemes that he and I have been involved with, to give the members of the schemes an assurance that they will have a secure pension in future.
I have spent most of my life dealing with the local government pension scheme, and I am going to talk about that today. Indeed, I should declare an interest as a member of that scheme. I recognise that change often raises concern and creates a measure of insecurity, and it is the job of those of us who have governance of these schemes, locally and nationally, to deal with that. As my hon. Friend Mr Gibb pointed out, however, the biggest cause of insecurity and the biggest risk to scheme members would be the lack of a secure financial basis for the future of the scheme. That is why the Government’s reforms are necessary; that is the most important reassurance that we can give to people.
There are other important points that we can take on board in the context of the amendments, and I want to talk about the local government schemes in particular. It has already been recognised in the House that they fall into a different category because of their substantially funded nature, which places them in a different position, and because of the considerable diversity within the sector. There are a number of schemes involved, and they generally have a good management track record and a system of management that creates transparency and democratic accountability. I hope that we can ensure that the regulations that will finally embody the schemes will recognise those differences.
I agree with John Healey that we should take at face value the assurances given by those on the Treasury Bench, and I have no hesitation doing so. I put it as gently as possible when I say that there has been a degree of needless raising of concern among scheme members, perhaps—dare I say it?—for partisan reasons. That is unhelpful.
The hon. Gentleman is urging us to take at face value the statements from those on his Front Bench. Let me tell him what the Economic Secretary to the Treasury said in Committee about the concerns over the fair deal. He said that
“it is important that we consider in full the views of all stakeholders, including of course those who will be affected, through further consultation before making a final decision on the issue.”––[Official Report, Public Services Pensions Public Bill Committee,
I put it to the hon. Gentleman that, taken at face value, that suggests that the final decision has not yet been taken, contrary to the agreements reached with the trade unions on pensions reform.
The right hon. Gentleman will know, as a former local government Minister, that there has already been considerable consultation and discussion on the shape of the local government schemes. In any event, there is to be a formal consultation as well. I do not read the same connotations into the Minister’s words as the right hon. Gentleman does. That is not my reading of the discussions to which I was party when I was a Minister. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that we should be as transparent and upfront as possible in our discussions with scheme members.
We need to move from our previous position, which was not financially sustainable, towards a better place. It is perfectly reasonable for my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues to be doing precisely that. I hope that, in so doing, they will recognise that the local government employers and unions have come to an agreement that meets the Government’s cost parameters. In my judgment, it also broadly reflects the particular circumstances and differences of the scheme.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that, even though the scheme will, for perfectly legitimate public policy reasons, require the sign-off of the Treasury, the ultimate shape of the scheme will be strongly informed by the particular expertise that exists in the local government world and among those who advised me in the Department for Communities and Local Government on the particular nature of these pension schemes and the best way to take these matters forward. I am prepared to accept that that can be done, and it is important that it should be done. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to reassure us on that point.
The other short points that I want to make involve technical issues. There is still time for us to consider some potential unintended consequences of the legislation, which it would not be inconsistent with the objectives of the Bill to resolve.
I should have declared my interest as a member of the local government pension scheme when I first intervened. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that one of the technical issues, as those on our Front Bench have pointed out, is that the language we use should allude to the amendment of the schemes rather than to their closure? If the local government pension schemes that are in currently in deficit were to be closed, the employers involved would immediately become liable to pay those deficits. That could have a hugely disruptive effect not only on the people receiving pensions now and in the future but on the local authorities themselves and the public services that they provide.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his arrival in the House. I have been dealing with him in the local government world for many years. I did my best to prevent him from coming here, but it clearly was not quite enough. He anticipates one of the technical issues that I was going to mention, and it is perhaps the most substantial one. Chronologically, it is not the first in relation to the Bill, but I might as well deal with it now for the sake of completeness.
I read with care the assurance that my hon. Friend the Minister gave in Committee. I entirely accept that it is not the Government’s intention to create crystallisation. However, I note that the finer details of the proposals are being considered, and we should look carefully at that. The Minister said that there was no requirement for the funds to be wound up, and I accept that, but I hope that he will consider the issues that have been raised by the Local Government Association about legal ambiguity.
I do not doubt that the Minister has no intention of creating a closure that would crystallise the debts of a scheme. That was always the basis on which I approached such negotiations when I was a Minister, and I am certain that nothing has changed in that regard. However, this was one area in which some of the nuttiest legal advice needed to be obtained—[ Interruption. ] I should have said “knottiest”. There is sometimes a risk of legal ambiguity, and that must be avoided at all costs. I would therefore urge my hon. Friend and his advisers at the Treasury to take on board the work that has been done in the DCLG and other Departments to find a means of resolving this issue. We all know where we want to end up, and I am sure that there is a means of achieving that. I know that the Minister’s skills and abilities will get us there. It is right to point out that some issues still need to be addressed, but they are not insurmountable in the context of where the Government want to get to. It is an important area to clarify to the maximum extent.
The other issue I want to touch on is governance. I hope that the Minister will consider the concerns raised by the Local Government Association and the unions about the lack of segregation between the scheme manager and the scheme board. Again, I do not think there is any dispute between us about where we want to end up, but it is a fact that the local government schemes have a good record in their management and a good record on transparency. When experienced representatives of local government employers raise concerns that the two functions of the scheme manager and the scheme board are difficult to reconcile within the same body, those concerns should not, in my judgment, be lightly dismissed. I note that the Minister sensibly and properly took on board the fact that there are still developments going on here and that proposals are still being developed. I hope that that will continue to be the case, and when he responds to the debate, he may be able to update us and reassure us that continuing discussions will take place with the experts in the local government sector to make sure that we get the best possible design for those matters.
Finally and more generally, I ask the Minister not to be deterred by undue reference to Henry VIII clauses. When I was taking the Localism Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill through the House, if I had £5 for every time I was criticised about Henry VIII clauses, I would have retired to some tax haven as a very rich man. [Interruption.] I probably would not have not done that actually as I enjoy being here so much,. However, it is part of the knockabout banter we get here that Oppositions always say that there are excessive Henry VIII clauses, but when one looks back, one finds that when the Opposition move into government, they construct Bills with exactly the same sort of clauses. That is why I urge the Minister not to be put off by that; it is necessary to build in the flexibility that such clauses provide in any piece of legislation of this kind. What are important are the statements of intent about the manner in which those clauses should be used. I am sure that the Minister will be able to reassure us on that.
What the hon. Gentleman said gives me the opportunity to peg in as a general point the fact that this debate is set against a backdrop of mood music that pensions are spiralling and are actually increasing, but the effect of the Bill is not to arrest pensions, but to cut them and to cut net contributions to pension schemes by 0.1% of gross domestic product, which is what the Government are saving. That, of course, is taken out of the pockets of many people who have worked hard for many years in our public services.
The hon. Gentleman and I once worked out that we might have a very, very, very—however many “verys” we put into it—distant relative in common, but with every gentleness and respect, I would have to tell him that we do no good service at all to our public services by being unrealistic about the affordability of pension arrangements.
I talked about the intent with which we approach these matters and about honesty, transparency and being frank about the financial realities that underpin the schemes. This measure is a critical part of that. The most important service we can provide is to be frank and to produce a scheme, which I am satisfied the Bill does, that is financially sustainable for the future. We have talked about the technical issues, but the overall thrust of being financially honest about the affordability of our public sector pension schemes is absolutely critical—and the Government have got that right.
I begin by expressing my gratitude to the Clerks and to Mr Speaker for their forbearance in ensuring that the amendment tabled in my name is debated in the most appropriate group this afternoon. That said, there is but one lonely little amendment—amendment 32, which would amend clause 16—in my name in this group. In some ways, it is very technical and practical amendment, but it would allow for the closure of existing Scottish schemes by
I am sure Members will be aware that the Scottish Government have devolved executive competence for a number of aspects of a number of Scottish public sector pension schemes. There have been considerable delays in establishing exactly what flexibilities are open to the Scottish Government in those areas for which they have responsibility, and it has been difficult to gain clarity over what that process might look like. That has obviously had an impact on the negotiating process.
Gaining clarity has happened in extremely piecemeal fashion. Back in March 2012, Ministers initiated partnership negotiations with employers and trade unions about the pension schemes of the NHS, teachers, police and firefighters. On
I understand the hon. Lady’s point and I know that some of the trade unions have commented on the matter. Is she aware of the correspondence between the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Scottish Government in October, in which the Scottish Government were invited to suggest some amendments to the Bill? Is her amendment one of those that the Scottish Government suggested to the Chief Secretary or to other Ministers?
I am afraid that I am not privy to the Scottish Government’s processes on this, so I cannot answer the hon. Lady’s question with any certainty whatever. What I can say is that the Scottish Government got clarity only a few weeks ago on the extent to which it can deviate from the proposals for England and Wales, and that the degree is quite limited indeed. I think the Scottish Government will have some flexibilities on accrual rates and some revaluation bases.
I will not give way to my hon. Friend at the moment because I want to make some short remarks in this part of the debate, and save my fuller comments for later.
Will the Minister accept my amendment and recognise how tight the time scales are, given the complex range of responsibilities—varying responsibilities relating to different schemes—and how tough the negotiations are? Not all partners to the negotiations even accept the need for this set of reforms. In 28 months’ time, when the provisions would otherwise commence, the Scottish Government would have had not only to complete the negotiations, prepare and pass legislation, but ensure that the employers and scheme administrators could prepare their systems and processes before the 2015 deadline.
This is a very technical amendment in some respects, but it is a very important one. I hope that the Minister will have listened carefully and will be pragmatic in his response to it later.
I rise to support my hon. Friend Chris Leslie in the amendments he has tabled. Each and every one of them is important. Given that we are having a reflective debate on Report, I hope we will get a reflective response from the Economic Secretary at the end of our debate on this group.
Let me start where it seems to me that there has been a strong measure of agreement across the House—on the importance of having good, regular and accurate pensions information for scheme members. I think we could all agree that what should underpin our pension schemes—this relates to new clause 2—are higher standards of governance, openness and administration. Such underpinning, then, should be provided in this Bill’s provisions for those public service pension schemes in the future. There is bound to be greater confidence and trust in the schemes, along with better understanding of them, if members are given more information.
We have all used Lord Hutton’s report as our starting point for the purposes of the Bill. Lord Hutton pointed out:
“Not all public service pension schemes communicate with members on a regular basis. Currently it is a requirement of defined contribution schemes in the private sector that they provide members with an annual benefit statement: this is not the case for defined benefit schemes”
—which, of course, the majority of public service pension schemes are. Lord Hutton also proposed, in his recommendation 18, precisely what my hon. Friend has advocated in new clause 2:
“All public service pension schemes should issue regular benefit statements to active scheme members, at least annually and without being requested”.
I must say that I thought my hon. Friend let the Economic Secretary off a little lightly when he said that he was not expecting the Government to accept the new clause, but was merely seeking an indication that they would table an amendment of their own in the House of Lords. That would certainly be satisfactory, but it would be desirable if the Government said “We accept the principle and we want the practice, so we will legislate accordingly by adopting the new clause.” It must surely be a matter of common sense and consensus that members being kept informed about their schemes so that they can plan for their retirement must be a good thing; and that good thing can be guaranteed in the Bill. I see no serious case against new clause 2.
I think that Lord Hutton’s proposal for a national board for the local government pension scheme is consistent with the bid for better standards, better information and better understanding among scheme members. The employers’ side, the Local Government Association, the union side, and members of unions such as the GMB all agree that Lord Hutton was right to make that recommendation, but we are still waiting to see it enshrined in the Bill. I hope that the provision for better standards and information for scheme members that we hope the Government will introduce will include provision for a national board.
One of my worries about the pension scheme changes relates to the different impacts that they will have on different communities. Sadly, as my hon. Friend may know, Corby has one of the 10 lowest life expectancy rates in the country. As we review the schemes, and, in particular, as we seek to give people information about the future benefits that they may expect, we should recognise that there are huge regional variations in life expectancy, and that it is important for people and their families to be able to plan for their future.
My hon. Friend’s constituency is in Northamptonshire and mine is in south Yorkshire, but we share an industrial heritage and a strong tradition of steel-making, and I entirely understand the point that he has made. It is as relevant to Corby and to east Northamptonshire as it is to Wentworth and Dearne and parts of Rotherham and Barnsley.
New clause 3 is simply intended to ensure that the undertaking given to the House by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and given to the unions that have been negotiating about pension schemes changes on behalf of their members, is guaranteed, and that Ministers will not be able to change their minds and change the schemes in the future. This must be legislation for a 25-year deal, which is what the Government originally promised us.
The question of access to public service pension schemes for public service workers who may face compulsory transferral to non-public service employers and organisations is critical. As has already been pointed out, the Government’s commitment to an extension was a deal-maker for many unions and for many of their members, particularly on the local government side. It would have been a deal-breaker for those unions and members if the guarantee had not been in place, or if what the Economic Secretary said in Committee—which I have quoted—had been on the table instead. We had a clear and principled commitment. That commitment ought to be included in the Bill, and then, as is appropriate in the case of enabling legislation of this sort, the details of the mechanism for how it is to be implemented can be provided in further regulation or scheme rules.
I must say to the Economic Secretary—as some of my hon. Friends have already said—that trust is a problem for the Government in the public services, particularly when it comes to public service pensions. That should come as no surprise to them. After all, they commissioned Hutton to produce the report, and before the publication of the final version, they hit public service workers with a 3% tax surcharge on their pension payments, and with not just a temporary but a permanent switching of the link with pensions from the retail to the consumer prices index. A commitment in the Bill will serve as a confirmation and a reassurance for public service workers that the Government do indeed mean what they say in this regard.
Let me say something about amendments 19 and 20, and about the Bill’s use of the concept of “closure”. During this debate and in Committee, the terms “closure” and “winding up” have been used almost synonymously, but they are not, of course, synonymous. The winding-up provisions in the Pensions Act 1995 apply principally to occupational pension schemes. Those schemes are different from local government pension schemes, which are funded and have the quasi-constitutional backing of local government.
As my hon. Friend pointed out, the Economic Secretary has said that that it is not the intention to close local government pension schemes. If, as the Government seem to be arguing, closure does not mean closure and there is no intention to legislate for closure of any of the funds, this change should be straightforward. It is evidently needed, especially given that the concern of employers, scheme members, trustees, and unions representing many of the members has been consistent and clear. Why risk uncertainty, why risk a legal challenge, why risk financial jeopardy for some funds, by allowing debts to be triggered in the particular circumstances of a funded scheme for local government?
It may not be the Government’s intention at present to reduce people’s benefits that they have already accrued. It may not be their intention to end any flexibility in the link between the normal pension age and the state pension age. It may not be their intention to make further and sweeping radical changes or cuts in people’s pension provision. As it stands, however, the Bill allows all those things to happen. That is why the new clauses and amendments are so important. They will reassure pension scheme members, now and in the future, that this is a settlement for the long term, that the Government mean what they say, and that the Government can, in the longer run, be trusted with public service pensions. Scheme members have seen little evidence since 2010 that that is really the case.
Members have discussed the technical definition of “closure”, and I ask the Economic Secretary to make it clear in his response that closure does not mean closure, but instead means the scheme is frozen while a new scheme is run alongside and in parallel. Members have talked about the effects of closing a scheme and the crystallisation of outstanding liabilities. In respect of the local government pension scheme, the council tax payer would then be forced to meet those liabilities in one fell swoop. That runs contrary to all the other efforts the Treasury is making to keep council taxes down, so if closure is, indeed, what is intended, there would appear to be a lack of joined-up thinking in the Treasury.
I support the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, and I hope the Economic Secretary will, too. For clarity’s sake, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that this does not only affect local councils, as schools that are academies, charities and a number of non-government organisations also use the local government pension scheme?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Having chaired the London borough of Barnet pension fund committee for several years, I know that while the council is by far the largest fund, there are also many admitted bodies for which it administers funds, such as Middlesex university, academies and various charities. The crystallisation of debt that may arise if there is any vagueness in the legislation could therefore have massive impacts not only on councils, which could, perhaps, withstand the financial shock by using reserves and spreading the effects over many years, but on smaller admitted bodies, who certainly could not do that.
As we have seen in respect of Equitable Life, once a fund closes and becomes a zombie fund, all the good fund managers flee. No decent fund manager worth their salt wants to manage a zombie fund. Therefore, because of the performance of the zombie fund, the liability grows still further. The implications of crystallisation of liabilities in this context must be taken into account. I urge the Economic Secretary to explain precisely what he means when referring to closing a fund. I believe he means that one fund would remain but would have no new contributions and no new members, and a new fund would run in parallel. I urge him to make that clear.
On the issues addressed in new clause 2, I urge the Government to go further, because best practice in the public sector in respect of providing information is not enough. It is my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary’s birthday tomorrow; I think he will turn 43 years of age. I calculate that by the time he reaches the normal pensionable age of the parliamentary scheme he will have contributed some 24 years of accrued service, presuming that he is in a one fortieth, one fiftieth or one sixtieth scheme with the various contribution rates that attach to them. My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary is a man of finance and has a head for figures, so I have no doubt that he understands the pension choices he has made, but I spend a surprisingly large amount of my time explaining to teachers and others—on Saturday I spoke to a police officer—exactly how their pension works, because they do not know and do not understand.
Further requirements in terms of transparency and quantity of information are needed, therefore, because people need to make rational decisions. If we want to defuse the pension time bomb, people have to make a rational decision based on information, not supposition. A constituent of mine who is a doctor has been trying for six months to get information from the NHS about his pension contributions and likely benefits. That is simply not good enough. The Government must go further in this regard.
In respect of this Bill and the commitment to public sector pensions, what change in GDP are we likely to see?
I am not qualified to judge that. I am not an economist, so I do not have information about the impact on GDP. It might be appropriate to ask the Economic Secretary that question, however.
I am not an economist either, but the issue is not the predicted rise in GDP; rather, it is the predicted fall in the working population who will be available to pay the pensions of a growing number of older people.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The pensions time bomb is not only to do with the fact that people are making insufficient provision; it is also about there being insufficient taxpayers to make up the gap between the contributions made by employer and employee and that gap having to be made up from general taxation. There are two parts of the time bomb, therefore. Unless accurate information is provided on pensions, people will not be able to make the appropriate decisions.
I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. After our debate, I may have to check whether I have said something that I cannot remember saying, and I apologise that I cannot respond to that point at present.
The House spends a huge amount of time regulating. The Food Labelling (Nutrition Information) (England) Regulations 2009 spell out in considerable detail the information that must be on food labels. The labels specify for consumers the fibre content, edible carbohydrate polymers, synthetic carbohydrates, salt content, kilojoules and calories, sugar content, fatty acids of trans fatty acids, yet when we ask people to make choices about their pensions, which is one of the biggest decisions of their life, we give them no information at all. I urge the Economic Secretary to go further by ensuring accurate information is included in our pension statements.
At least with regard to new clause 2 and the need for good communication and good information, it appears that there is a fair degree of cross-House agreement. Members may have different motives for wanting such information to be given, and may hold different views about what behavioural change that might drive. Some Members might also hint that they want this information to be given so that public sector workers are properly and humbly grateful for retaining better pensions than the absolutely dreadful pensions of many in the private sector. I hope the Economic Secretary will respond positively, however, and agree that this is an important step. It will be deeply ironic if better and more thorough information is given to people with private sector pensions than to those with public sector pensions.
We all want to avoid too much information being given, of course, with people receiving many pages of information, much of it hard to understand. We do not want to over-egg that pudding. There is a parallel debate happening in the world of private sector pensions on giving good, accurate but still efficient information, so that people can look at a single page of information—that is preferable—and understand what their likely pensions are going to be. On that matter I hope that the Minister, having heard the debate in Committee and again today, will be happy to make some changes to the provisions. I cannot see why new clause 2 should not be in the Bill, as it deals with such a major issue.
I wish briefly to discuss new clause 3, which deals with the issue of a fair deal. Again, there would appear to be a substantial degree of agreement across the House on the substance of the issue. Nobody is saying, “We don’t think these should be the provisions.” The question that has been raised is whether they should be in the Bill. Some Government Members have suggested that accepting what the clearly stated view of Ministers has been at various points should be good enough, because it is on the record and we should be confident that that is sufficient. However, as far as I am aware, it is not possible to litigate on the basis of what people simply said, rather than what is in legislation. People have attempted to say in the past, “But that was the intention”, even doing so in respect of debates in this House. However, legal disputes about rights or obligations turn on the much narrower construction of what is written in the Bill.
I am not suggesting, in any way, that those who have spoken during our consideration of the Bill do not intend what they have said, but many public sector workers are genuinely concerned. As I said in my earlier intervention, the matter becomes a great deal more important if the Government continue, as they presumably will, over the next two years to do what they say they want to do: outsource more of what we would regard, or have traditionally regarded, as public sector activities. That has already happened to some extent. Some people have explained how this could be very positive, with employee mutuals and all kinds of social enterprises springing up to provide public services. If the Government are genuinely serious about wanting current public sector employees not just to have to do this, but to be enthusiastic about doing it, these safeguards have to be in place. If this is the road that is to be pursued, it is even more important to have these provisions than it may have been in the past. Saying, “You didn’t do it before so we don’t need to do it now” is not a particularly good argument; some of us might disagree what had been done previously. Even if we do not, the argument is still not particularly good, as we have also to learn from experience. I hope that the Government will seriously consider legislation on this matter, because if they genuinely have no intention of departing from the promised arrangement I cannot see what the problem is. When people begin to say there is a problem, that is when those paying into these schemes—the employees likely to be affected—begin to smell a rat. There may be no rat there, but why not make things absolutely clear?
That is also true of what we are trying to achieve in amendment 12, which deals with an apparent possibility arising from clause 7. Again we were given assurances in Committee that we should not be reading into this something that the Government do not intend. Clause 7 says:
“Scheme regulations may establish a scheme…as
(a) a defined benefits scheme”.
It then goes on to talk about
“a scheme of any other description”.
It is not at all clear what is actually meant. We were told that one or two specialist defined contribution schemes are in existence, but people are clear that the promise that was made as part of this negotiation is that the defined benefits schemes would remain in place. They will, however, be changed, and during the negotiation employees in various parts of the public sector accepted substantial changes in the kind of pension because they accepted the imperatives. In moving from final salary pension schemes to career average schemes, changes are being made in accrual rates. All sorts of changes have been made—for example, the forthcoming changes to pension age—but they were made on the basis that the scheme will remain as a defined benefit scheme.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case and sounding a clear warning. She mentions that clause 7(1) refers to
“a defined contributions scheme, or
( c) a scheme of any other description.”
Would she like to point out to the House that this potential change in clause 7 could in theory, under subsection (5), be brought in by way of a negative resolution—by a statutory instrument that would not allow a debate in this Chamber or even a 90-minute debate in a Committee upstairs?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention, because that is an important point. If the rest of the clause did not give rise to the possibility of substantial changes, that provision might be acceptable. However, where we are talking about much greater changes, it is particularly important that the full debate takes place.
Again, there appears to be a difference between giving an assurance and a reluctance to see that assurance embedded in the Bill. Various people have mentioned that the whole debate we have had, particularly since 2010, has eroded some of the public sector workers’ trust. I do not generally seek to be overly alarmist in these matters, but even in Committee—I am pleased to say that this has not happened today—there were points when we could see exactly why many public sector workers are apprehensive, There were those, admittedly not a ministerial level but on the Government Back Benches, who clearly still feel that public sector pensions are too generous. The underlying thinking is that at some point, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, further attempts will be made in that regard.
I fully accept that even with the changes that come through this Bill and through other negotiations that have taken place, public sector pensions remain far better than private sector pensions. However, we always have to remember that the comparator we now have is absolutely dreadful private sector pensions, regardless of where we place the blame and how that has happened. One thing that politicians should be doing in the next few months and years is trying to improve private sector pensions.
Finally, I wish to discuss amendment 11, which relates to the local government scheme in Scotland.
Generally, the arrangements for many public sector schemes in Scotland have been that Scottish Ministers could make regulations, but that they were subject to Treasury approval. For the most part, whether because of that need for Treasury approval or because until relatively recently there has been no reason to depart from the UK-wide arrangements as doing so might create various anomalies that would not always be helpful, the regulations for schemes—all those that are not funded, at least—have lain with Scottish Ministers but have been made in the same way.
The exception is the local government pension scheme and the difference is that that is a funded scheme. It has been regulated in a way that has not normally had Treasury approval. The purpose of our amendment is to exclude the Scottish local government pension scheme from the Bill, which would enable matters relating to that scheme to be dealt with by Scottish Ministers. The amendment would perhaps add clarity to the devolution of power, but, more importantly, it would embed the practice as regards that scheme and safeguard it. Otherwise, the Bill would mean that the Treasury would be involved in setting aspects of the Scottish local government scheme and, for the first time, local government workers in Scotland might find that changes can be made to their pensions by the UK Government.
My hon. Friend is making another powerful point about amendment 11. She is right that the Scottish Government are not normally backward in coming forward to demand new powers and for decisions to be taken in Scotland for Scotland. Would she care to speculate about why they have not chosen to apply for a legislative consent motion that would allow them to make these decisions in Scotland? Could it be that they are looking to allow the broad shoulders of the Economic Secretary to take the blame and responsibility for the changes to the local government pension scheme in Scotland?
I was going to come to that point, because I am surprised that that opportunity has not been taken, given the context. As my right hon. Friend will know, this is a difficult and sensitive subject, but—this point might well be speculative and I am sure that people will wish to deny that it is the case—it is no secret that we are in a particular stage of politics in Scotland, and it would—
I think I might be rescuing the hon. Lady from the point she was trying to make. Earlier, she stressed the importance of considering what is actually in the legislation rather than the world as we would like it to be. Does she welcome the fact that John Swinney has not exercised his flexibility to increase contributions to the local government pension scheme?
I am more than happy to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps we will have further debate on that topic.
If amendment 11 were agreed to, considerable and greater power would be available for the Scottish Parliament than the current Scottish Government appear to want.
Within the context of the politics at present, I do not think it would be idle speculation to suggest that that might be convenient.
With reference to the amendment mentioned by Dr Whiteford earlier, notwithstanding the comments I made at that stage, does my hon. Friend agree that it is rather strange that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth in the Scottish Government is complaining that there are only some 28 months to conclude negotiations on pensions when a great deal of the Scottish Government’s effort appears to be going on other things at the moment? Perhaps some of that resource could be used to resolve these issues.
Finally, there is a risk that we are missing something in Scotland and are not getting—or even trying to get—the powers we could have. That decision might be for purely party political reasons, so that people can lay blame, saying, “There is nothing we can do; we cannot make life better for you because we do not have the power to do so. It is all because of that nasty Government down in London and your only way out of this is to make that amazing leap so that with one bound we are free. Then, everything will suddenly be wonderful,” in the hope that that will persuade the people of Scotland that they should vote for separation. I am confident that the level-headedness of the Scottish people will mean that they will not be taken in by such proceedings.
I thank Sheila Gilmore for her speech. For the short time for which I have been a Minister so far, in every debate and in every Bill Committee in which I have been involved, no matter what the subject, she has spoken. I can always rely on her to quiz me and keep me on my toes, so I thank her for that.
Let me also thank all other hon. Members who have contributed to the discussions we have just had: the shadow Financial Secretary, the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), John Healey and my hon. Friends the Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) and for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer). I shall try to deal with all the points that were raised.
I am glad that we are starting with new clause 2 and that we have started our debate discussing annual benefit statements. It is right that scheme members should be kept informed of their pension rights and provided with an annual update. I fully understand the case for doing more in that area and find myself in agreement with the arguments that Members on both sides of the House raised today and in Committee.
I agree that information should be provided for some members, without request, in one format or another. However, I cannot support the precise wording of the new clause. For example, it does not distinguish between active, pensioner and deferred members but we would need to take that distinction into account. I would also wish to ensure that any change was future-proof—for example, we should not inadvertently mandate paper statements when it might be easier and cheaper for schemes to implement online and perhaps mobile technologies in the future.
Although I respect and understand the spirit in which the new clause was tabled, and although I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have said, I would not propose to use its exact wording. I am now persuaded that there is a case for going the extra mile to ensure regular updates are provided for scheme members. That is why we will consider the matter further and propose an amendment in the other place to deal with annual benefit statements.
I welcome the Minister’s statement. I had quite a lot of sympathy with the Opposition’s case, simply because many of the representations made to me as a constituency MP while the negotiations were taking place contained a mixture of misinformation that came, perhaps, from the trade unions or from a basic misunderstanding of the scheme. The Government and all the scheme employers definitely have a role to play in clarifying the terms and conditions of the scheme so that we do not have these misunderstandings again.
I welcome that commitment. The Minister said that the information should be provided “to some scheme members”. May I urge him to take a maximalist approach and make sure that the maximum reasonable number of members get the most regular and at least annual information that will allow them to understand the scheme better and to plan for retirement and manage it better as well?
I agree. All scheme members, one way or the other, should receive annual information. That is the type of amendment we will table in the other place. However, there are different types of members of schemes, such as deferred members and active members. That needs to be taken into account when they receive that information.
I seek clarification and perhaps also reassurance in relation to those who are members of small public bodies. They have been informed that their pensions will transfer to larger schemes where they feel that they will lose out more than anyone else. What assurance can the Minister give the House and people in small public bodies that their pension rights will be guaranteed or assured?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the question. We will come to a related issue later, which may be a better point at which to discuss that.
We had a robust discussion of new clause 3. The Government have set out their commitment to retaining the fair deal, but reforming it. Staff who are transferred from the public sector to an independent provider will be provided with continued access to the public sector pension scheme. This commitment has been made on numerous occasions by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton rightly mentioned in his contribution. It was announced on
The Opposition say that the Government have not made a commitment to the fair deal in the Bill. That is not entirely correct. Both clauses 22 and 26 allow for the new fair deal policy to be implemented. The Bill has been deliberately crafted so that the new fair deal can be delivered under these provisions. Let me be clear. The current fair deal, which Members are rightly keen to retain, has never been statutory. The new fair deal does not need to be statutory to bind non-public sector providers to the policy. The contracts that independent contractors enter into when tendering will ensure that the fair deal is applied.
The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne referred to my comments in Committee, and it is important to be clear. We are consulting on how the fair deal should apply to those employees who have already been transferred out under the existing fair deal, but we are not consulting on the commitment that we have already made, which is that public sector workers who are transferred out under the new fair deal will retain a right to public sector pensions. We are also consulting on what to do when an existing contract that has already been tendered out is retendered under the new fair deal. There is work to be done to determine how and when the new policy will be implemented. We want to be sure that the contracts put in place will safeguard the legal rights of employees and employers. As the Government, rather than the independent providers of the services, will be retaining the risk of providing these pensions, we need to get this right.
The amendment would also bind the local government pension scheme. However, the fair deal does not apply to staff transferred out of local government. It would not be appropriate to accept the amendment as the implications for local government and the LGPS need to be fully explored. This is work that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Brandon Lewis, is already doing. For all of these reasons, we believe the amendment is unnecessary and would pre-empt the ongoing work on the local government scheme.
On amendment 11, we will no doubt look at Scotland in more detail later in the debate, but let me try to set hon. Members’ minds to rest on the issues raised in the amendment. Legislative competence for the local government pension scheme in Scotland sits with this Parliament. The approval of the Scottish Parliament is therefore not needed under the Sewel convention or the Scotland Act 1998 for primary legislation on Scottish local government pensions. This is a position accepted by the Scottish Government and emphasised by the
Scottish Finance Minister on
“over pensions for local government, the national health service, teachers or police and fire staff—that would trigger the Sewel convention.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report,
I am aware of how pressing the question of devolution is for some of our colleagues in Scotland, but I am sure that Chris Leslie would agree that the Bill is not an appropriate place to rework the devolution settlement put in place by the 1998 Act or the long-standing Sewel convention by making this House’s ability to legislate for local government pensions in Scotland subject to the Scottish Parliament’s consent.
The reason why we tabled the amendment is important. Notwithstanding the Minister’s comments on what the Cabinet Secretary for Finance said, concern has been expressed by the trade unions that the ability to make some of the regulations relating to the local government pension scheme in Scotland might change the relationship that had previously existed. We want to ensure that the existing practice is in the Bill and that there would be no change. That is what the amendment seeks to do.
I respect the hon. Lady’s intentions, but for the reasons that I set out, I do not believe the amendment is necessary. The situation as it stands is quite clear.
I thank the Minister for giving way once again. In all the correspondence that has gone back and forth between the Scottish Government and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, did the Scottish Government at any stage ask for any amendments to be made to the Bill, either to clarify it or to give them further flexibility?
I have not seen all that correspondence, but to my knowledge the Scottish Government have not asked for any such amendments.
On amendment 12, I welcome the opportunity to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the defined benefit structure of the new schemes. I would hate to think that the hon. Member for Nottingham East is unaware of the 85,000 or so public service workers who are already members of the current career average schemes. His amendment, which he says is designed to reassure public service workers about the nature of their pensions, refers only to final salary schemes. I can reassure all public sector workers, including those currently in career average schemes, that the Government are fully committed to implementing the defined benefit schemes that have been negotiated. I assure the House, just as I assured the Committee, that the Government have no intention of replacing these defined benefit schemes with different types of scheme designs.
There is no secret plot here. We have spent a long time in discussions with trade unions and member representatives to get where we are today. It would be foolhardy to throw away 18 months of work and do something entirely different. We do not intend to move away from defined benefit schemes in public services. Defined contribution schemes would not be the right kind of pension provision for many public servants.
If the commission would like to have a meeting with me, I would be happy to do so.
However, we must not vilify defined contribution schemes either. There might be a small group of individuals who consider that their needs are better served by defined contribution schemes—for example, those spending a short time in public service roles who would prefer to use their employer contributions to maintain their existing defined contribution schemes. Approximately 7,000 people are already in that type of scheme by choice. There is nothing wrong with giving people such a choice. The Government believe that clause 7 already provides the right powers to allow the new defined benefit schemes to be set up while allowing alternatives types of scheme for those who want them.
I turn to amendments 19 to 28 to clause 16. I understand the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham East and others in Committee and this afternoon. We have provided reassurances on some of those concerns in correspondence. I hope that all hon. Members are now assured that the effect of the clause will not be to crystallise liabilities or to wind up any of the funded schemes. The amendments highlight those issues over which there are lingering doubts. As the hon. Gentleman set out, those relate to the extent and effect of the closure of the current schemes and the dates on which the changeover will take place.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks and hope that I can provide further such reassurance on the clause this afternoon.
Amendments 19 to 21 seek to provide that the reforms are made by replacing the existing regulations. The scheme regulations made under the Bill would therefore have to provide for both accrued rights and new service, which we do not believe is sensible. The hon. Member for Nottingham East has expressed concerns that the Bill, as drafted, could create two separate schemes and that that could create extra costs. The Local Government Association has further clarified its outstanding concern that members of existing schemes are treated as deferred members of the existing schemes when the new schemes are introduced. That is not our intention. We will look closely at that, with the Local Government Association and others, to see whether any changes are desirable or needed to put that beyond doubt.
With regard to amendments 22 to 28, the purpose of clause 16 is to prevent benefits from being provided under existing terms in respect of a member’s service after the schemes are reformed. It closes the existing schemes, but only by closing them to future accrual.
Clauses 4 and 5 already provide for existing and new arrangements for each work force to be managed and administered together. The old and new schemes will be administered by the same scheme manager, who will be assisted by the same pension board. From a member’s perspective, the transition between their old and new pension rights and the administration of their pensions will be seamless.
The dates proposed in amendments 21 and 22 do not fit with the dates agreed for the reform of the schemes:
Although I remain convinced that the Bill will deliver what we want, I am aware that others believe that the dates are confusing. It is a concern that I will continue to consider. I regret to say that we cannot accept these amendments, because I am afraid that they would not work. However, they are clearly well intentioned and we can see what they are trying to achieve. As I said in Committee, we will continue to work through the outstanding concerns. I will reflect further on the amendments and we might return to the matter in the other place.
I turn now to amendment 4, tabled by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and others. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the amendment; its purpose is clear but the practical effects would be fraught with problems. First, in England and Wales the appointed person will be reviewing the valuation and employer contribution rates of 89 separate pension funds. The appointed person will not know who the employee representatives are for each of those funds. The clause already requires the appointed person’s report to be published. That is the appropriate course of action. We envisage that the appointed person will publish a single report covering each and every one of the local authority funds. The Bill rightly requires that a copy is sent to the relevant authority and to the scheme managers, because those persons might need to take action as a result of the report.
If the appointed person identifies a problem in a pension fund, under the Bill the scheme manager would be required to take remedial action. The Bill also allows the relevant authority to intervene if necessary. However, members and their representatives will not need to take any action. The management of local authority pension funds needs to be more transparent, and the clause achieves that. The information will be published and members, local authority residents, Parliament and others will be able to see and consider it. The amendment would add no value, but it would create unnecessary costs and burdens.
I will now speak to amendments 7 and 8. I have already reassured the House that the Government have no intention of replacing the current defined benefit schemes with different scheme designs. Clause 7 allows the necessary flexibility for future Parliaments and pension scheme members to decide on the most appropriate pension scheme design for future generations of public service workers in the largest schemes. Clause 28 allows the same flexibility for the smaller public body schemes made under clause 28(7) or other powers. The Government expect that in most cases employees of the bodies listed in schedule 10 will join the reformed civil service pension scheme and have the same choice that civil servants have now: whether to join a defined benefit or a defined contribution scheme. The amendments would deny the employees of the other public bodies listed in schedule 10 that choice.
The Minister, as ever, is being generous with his time. On amendments 7 and 8, his response will have a chilling effect for trade unions representing members across the piece, because the Government are not adhering to the direction of travel indicated in their assurances on the 25-year guarantee—that we were moving to defined benefit, not defined contribution schemes. Will the Government at least monitor the process and report back to the House, because I do not think that it is their will—it is certainly not the will they have displayed up to now—that there should be a flourishing of defined contribution schemes which would undermine defined benefit schemes?
I hope that I have made the Government’s commitment to defined benefit schemes very clear; I do not think I can make it any clearer than I have already from the Dispatch Box today. That commitment clearly has not changed.
Finally, on amendment 32, I am confident that the Scottish Government can achieve the 2015 timetable. Even more importantly, I have no reason to believe that the Scottish Government share the concerns expressed by Dr Whiteford. The Scottish Government’s Finance Minister, Mr John Swinney, has not requested that the Bill be amended to allow for a delay for implementation in Scotland. Indeed, such a delay would disadvantage lower and middle-income public service workers, who often benefit from a move to career average schemes. Furthermore, a delay in implementing the reforms would result in additional liabilities being built up in those schemes. These additional costs, running to hundreds of millions of pounds, would have to be paid for through the Scottish budget.
Let me reiterate that I have no problem whatsoever with the move to career average schemes. Does the Minister accept, though, that this process has been subject to unnecessary prevarication and lack of clarity? In relation to amendment 11, tabled by Cathy Jamieson, does he accept that these proposals will roll back the existing provisions of the devolution settlement?
I heard the Minister say that the Scottish Government had not made any formal request to change the time scale, but the Finance Secretary referred to that in his speech in the Scottish Parliament when he indicated that he was not bringing forward a legislative consent motion. If the Scottish Government were to make such a formal approach, would the Minister, even at this late stage, be willing to consider amendments once the Bill moves elsewhere?
If the Scottish Government wanted to suggest any amendments, we would of course have a sensible discussion with them about that.
Over the past year the Chief Secretary has written on a monthly basis to the Scottish Government about the public service pension reforms, and we have asked many times whether they would like to consider amending the Bill. They have not requested any such changes so far, and it would therefore be inappropriate to accept the amendment now.
As I said, virtually every month the Chief Secretary has written to the Scottish Government, and they have had plenty of opportunity to respond. As I said to Cathy Jamieson, if, even at this stage, the Scottish Government wanted to suggest amendments, those amendments would be given serious thought in the other place.
I commend Government amendments 35 to 39 to the House.
I will start with the good news that the Minister is willing to concede the principle, if not the words, of new clause 2 on member communications. That is an important change of heart. We wanted annual benefit statements to be sent out proactively to members of defined benefit public service pension schemes, as they are for defined contribution schemes. We encountered a bit of resistance in Committee, but the Minister has thought again, particularly in the light of the views of the hon. Members for Bedford and for Finchley and Golders Green, and of many of my hon. Friends who made the same argument. I welcome the fact that the Minister has been persuaded of the spirit of the amendment. We do not get many victories for common sense in legislation, but this is one of them, and I pay tribute to him. It is a mark of distinction for him that we have managed to have him think afresh about the argument, reflect on it, and bring matters forward in the House of Lords. When our constituents receive these annual letters in the post, they can thank him for that extra information, as well as the hon. Members who have argued for it. [ Interruption. ] The letters may of course arrive online as well.
The Minister did not say much about Government amendment 35, but that also feels like a famous victory. It means that existing members of final salary schemes in public bodies will definitely be able to stay in those schemes. We are sometimes grateful for small mercies in these legislative processes.
I turn now to the less good news. I heard what the Minister said about our amendment 12, which would ensure that defined benefit schemes that have ended are superseded by new defined benefit schemes. It is a moot point, and we have our disagreements about it. I shall not press the amendment to a vote at this stage, although I am sure that the issue will be revisited in the other place.
Amendments 19 to 22 relate to the closure of local government pension schemes and whether that means that they are really being closed or merely amended. We are worried about the potential for unintended adverse consequences in how the legislation is drafted. However, the Minister said that our amendments were well-intentioned, and that is good enough for me at this stage. They were, indeed, well intentioned and that is another issue that we will want to revisit in the other place.
We have debated the question of devolved responsibilities and amendment 11, which would clear up some of the confusion, particularly in relation to applications by the Scottish Government for legislative consent motions. We feel strongly that there needs to be some clarification on the issue, but the Minister was helpful in saying that the Government want to consider it, so I shall not press that question, although it is very important.
The new fair deal is a promise whereby existing members of public sector pension schemes will be allowed to retain their membership even if they are transferred or outsourced to the private sector, but we have still not received a commitment to that beyond Ministers’ verbal promises. The Minister has said that more work needs to be done, that they need to explore further the issues and that they do not want to pre-empt ongoing work, but that does not sound like the decision that we and many on the employee side thought had been made for a clear and unequivocal commitment to the new fair deal. It is integral to the deals that were agreed in the process leading up to this Bill. I cannot see what harm can be done by including the new fair deal in statute. It is a question of trust, so I want to press new clause 3 to a Division. With those words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.